TED Conversations

Drew Thompson


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How does affluence impact biodiversity?

The idea that affluence plays a role in environmental harm has been around since the 1970’s. During that time, Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren incorporated affluence into their IPAT equation which stated: environmental impact equals population times affluence times technology. While biodiversity is not explicitly mentioned in this theory, it is intimately linked to environmental health.  Biodiversity is the measure of variation among life forms from microbes to trees, and as such, the state of the environment will directly effect the diversity of organisms it supports.

This issue of affluence and the environment is more prevalent today than ever, as the number of consumers is increasing dramatically in rapidly growing nations such as China and India. These consumers often follow in the footsteps of Western countries, with appliances and automobiles becoming the norm for many households. The need for more material wealth brings the need for more energy and the extraction of raw materials. A more urbanized landscape can be expected as well. As these cultures shift in their lifestyles and values, how will  biodiversity be affected? In what ways do a society's affluence harm the genetic and species diversity of the surrounding environment?  Is it possible that positive changes in values or technology could allow for affluence to rise without detriment to natural habitats and biodiversity?


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    Apr 29 2012: There are over 7 billion people on the Earth today. The energy used to keep this place we call home functioning is 259,000,000 MWh and counting. More than 90% of that energy comes from a non-renewable source. If we take a second to think about the what this means, not only are we denying future generations the use of natural resources such as coal and natural gas, but we are also emitting so much greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels that it is starting to affect the climate. This drastic climate change is affecting not only the animals and the overall biodiversity of our planet but also affecting us humans. If this isn't enough, the timber we are using per year to heat those big houses that we built are knocking out a number of species at a time. A lot of people are avoiding this topic because it doesn't seem like a big enough issue. And we have plenty of money, technology, and even intelligence to fix the problem when it gets here. And its true, we are a smart and if we all put our minds to it, we could fix the problem when its at its worst. But will it be too late? Will we have lost too much by that time? I believe we could have a positive impact on the environment and biodiversity but only if we start soon.

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